A propulsion system is an apparatus that converts mechanical power into a propulsive force, pushing or pulling an object to drive it forward. Within the realm of aerospace, the aircraft propulsion system often consists of an aircraft engine to produce thrust, allowing it to achieve sustained, heavier-than-air flight. Depending on the type of aircraft, various propulsion systems may be implemented to achieve flight, and each utilizes varying components and properties for their operation. In this blog, we will discuss two of the most common propulsion system types, as well as some of their various subtypes.
The reciprocating engine, also known as a piston engine, is an internal-combustion aircraft engine that is often present on smaller planes. Reciprocating engines utilize pistons that function in cycles, converting pressure from the combustion of fuel-air mixtures and linear motion into a rotating motion. Reciprocating engines often come in different types, varying based on the arrangement of their cylinders. Horizontally opposed engines are those that utilize four to six cylinders that are arranged together in an array of two or three on each side. Due to their simple design, the horizontally opposed engine serves as a reliable and easy to maintain engine type that is popular for many smaller aircraft. Radial engines are another piston aircraft engine type in which cylinders are placed in a circle surrounding the crankshaft, and the number of cylinders may range from 5 to 28. Radial engines once served as the primary reciprocating engine type, but they have since been superseded by the horizontally opposed engine.
Jet Engine: :
For a majority of aircraft types, the gas turbine engine has replaced the reciprocating engine for the generation of propulsion. Similar to reciprocating engines, combustion of fuel-air mixtures is critical for the operation of the aircraft engine, and jet engines utilize this combusted mixture to create thrust through ejection of exhaust gases. The turbojet is the first type of turbine engine, and the most simple in design. Within the turbojet, there is an air compressor, combustion chamber, turbine section, and exhaust. As compressed air is mixed with fuel and ignited, the expanding gas drives the turbine and then is expelled as high speed exhaust gases to generate thrust. Turboprops were the next edition of jet engines, operating a propeller through a reduction gear and are typically smaller and lighter as compared to a piston engine. While they tend to burn more fuel, they operate with more cost efficiency and can provide more power. Ramjets are aircraft engines that operate similarly to a turbojet, though they can achieve high acceleration without the need for a compressor or turbine.
Beyond classifying aircraft by their engine type, they may also be categorized by the placement of the powerplant. A tractor type aircraft is one that has their aircraft engine and propeller within the line of flight. When the placement is opposite of the line of flight, it is called a pusher type. For jet engines, the most common configuration is to have placement be underneath the wing, utilizing nacelles that are suspended on pylons or attached to stub fixtures near the back of the fuselage. Meanwhile, certain supersonic and hypersonic aircraft may be designed with the engine being an integral section of the fuselage undersurface.
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